Remembering Dr. Michael DeBakey

Remembering Dr. Michael DeBakey

Dr. Michael DeBakey was one of America's most influential and innovative heart doctors. As a result of his medical inventions, he literally saved thousands of lives and revolutionized the way surgeons work on the human heart.

As a surgeon in World War II, he urged that doctors be moved from hospitals to the front where they could treat the wounded in a more effective and timely manner. During the Korean War, he created the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, or "MASH" of movie and TV fame, and developed medical programs to care for returning veterans.

While still in medical school he invented the roller pump. That  became the centerpiece of the heart-lung machine, which takes over the functions of the heart and lungs during surgery by supplying oxygenated blood to the brain. His other heart-related surgical innovations include grafting, bypasses and the use of mechanical assistance devices that are now used everywhere.

His idea of using Dacron (polyester) grafts to repair damaged arteries was ridiculed by other medical practitioners at the time, but it became common practice and saved his own life when he suffered a torn aorta in 2006.

He was also the first, with Dr. Alton Ochsner, to make the connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer in 1939. The medical community scoffed at the idea and it took another 25 years for that link to be officially documented by the Surgeon General of the United States in 1964.

The heart surgeon for Presidents Johnson and Nixon, King Edward VIII of England, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Shah of Iran, Dr. DeBakey received a number of honors for his work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Legion of Merit,  the National Medal of Science and the Congressional Gold Medal — but he will be best remembered as the army surgeon who cared about saving the lives of regular troops in combat and, in civilian life, for reforming the way America takes care of its veterans.

Dr. Michael DeBakey passed away in 2008 at the age of 99 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.